Migration and & European Elections: Media Responsibility
Institute of International Economic Relations, El. Venizelou 16, TK 10672, Athens
18 April 2019 — 12:30-2:30 pm
Spyros Danellis, MP, candidate for the European Parliament
Mr. Spyros Danellis was an MP between 1996 and 2000, a mayor of Hersonisos (Crete) between 2003 and 2009, a member of the European Parliament between October 2009 and June 2014. Mr. Spyros Danellis is an MP since January 2015 and now a candidate for the European Parliament.
Giannis Pandelakis, Journalist
Mr. Giannis Pandelakis is a journalist and an author. He has worked in opinion-leading Greek newspapers of the centre-left such as Eleftherotypia and Efimerida twn Syntaktwn. His “The Lost Honour of Journalism” book that looks at the emergent “fake news” phenomenon is a best-seller in Greece.
Sophia Akram, Journalist
Ms. Sophia Akram is a senior advisor and researcher at ICRD as well as a freelance journalist. Writing on human rights and social justice issues, she has had a particular focus on the humanitarian fallout of conflicts in the Middle East and many publications in Al Jazeera, Middle East Eye, The New Arab.
Dimitris Levantis, Lawyer
Mr. Dimitris Levantis is a Lawyer and a member of the Synodal Committee “Justice and Peace”
Sophia Akram, Journalist
Following on the Libyan crisis and its effect, Sophia Akram, of the International Center for Relations and Diplomacy (ICRD), sketched the experience of migration in North Africa in the new context of the Libyan crisis. As people fleeing persecution take the perilous journey to reach thee sea, the war diverts migration routes through Tunis and eventually Italy but also Greece and even Cyprus.
Reflecting on her own experience as a journalist, Akhram talked about the way digital media frame, and exploit the fear of migration to develop political capital. “YouTube, Facebook, and other social media channels have been instrumental in creating political capital for prominent figures of the European right, like Matteo Salvini in Italy and Nigel Farage in the UK.”
Spyros Danelis, MEP
The AfD electoral campaign motto – we must not become Euro-Arabia – encapsulates the danger at hand. And the danger does not stem only from the far-right, but also mainstream parties that have assimilated polarizing discourse.
The fear of migration can be used as a proxy for the fear of unemployment, criminality, and social inequality, with migrants becoming a perfect scapegoat. “That is the product of political extremism, which unfortunately is marketed by a number of media platforms.”
“Media do not merely reflect but actually construct a reality, he added, “failing to create alternative possibilities for who is a migrant.” By way of example, he offered two examples: Greek media have often considered “natural” the fact that uprisings in Greek prisons started from foreigners, whilst referencing the Greek nationality of a thief with surprise.
“It is not the forthcoming refugee crisis that will change the political landscape in the European Parliament, but its instrumental exploitation by the European right,” Danellis noted.
Danellis urged a continuous discussion about migration, especially from North Africa and the Middle East, as this is not a phenomenon that will go away, especially given climate change. He also noted that EU member states cannot afford to passively observe the changing map of the Middle East, but assume its responsibilities, taking into account that Europe is ageing,
“In view of the far-right Matteo Salvini and a polarized media landscape that divides the world between ‘us and them,’ political forces that consider themselves progressive – and editorially responsible media platforms – have a responsibility to reshape the way we perceive and talk about migration and refugees.
Giannis Pandelakis, Journalist
“It is clear that the agenda has shifted to the right, as it is clear that media platforms frame migration as “a problem,” Pandelakis noted.
The main problem is that evoking fear works, Pandelakis noted. “Fear sells, as we see across Europe, as parties that use it see their numbers swell. The problem at hand is that because fear is effective it also contaminates the language of so-called mainstream parties.”
The same is true of media coverage, Pandelakis noted, as fear also “sells” media products, as social media coverage motivates engagement, which is where the value really is in digital journalism.
We have a number of anecdotal “fake news” across Greece, which were reported like truths, especially in small communities during the refugee crisis.
- Syrian refugees were reported as eating dogs
- As organizing orgies, eating dogs, as demanding that bells to not sound on Sundays because they are Muslim, as receiving pensions and handouts that do not exist, and so forth.
“In 2015, the media were not reporting reality but creating reality and dissenting views were either treated with anger but, worse yet, not effective in reaching public opinion because anger is more effective in triggering engagement.”
Dimitris Levandis, Lawyer, Human Rights activist (Caritas)
Levandis focused on what is not reported.
“Children from Syria have filled the schools that no longer have Greek children,” noted Dimitris Levantis, focusing on the underreporting of how refugee children mainly from the Middle East added joy in ever-smaller and fewer Greek schools.
“I am proud that the Greek educational system was able to fill the schools, stop underage marriage to some extent, and helped Greece that is suffering itself from demographic stagnation,” Levandis noted.
“It is interesting that investors are never referred to as migrants; what really triggers our anger is the poverty of the newcomers,” Levandis added.
Referring to his experience in faith-based Christian solidarity organizations in Europe, he drew attention to the work of the Lutheran Church in the Netherlands and the Catholic Church in Italy, who are drawing anger for preaching solidarity and taking action. He also noted that this kind of solidarity is underreported, or framed as “betrayal,” triggering public political reaction, both in the Netherlands and Italy. “We lose members of our congregation,” he was told by a Lutheran activist, “but we will regain them,” he said with confidence.
What is rarely discussed, Levandis noted, is the positive effect for the Greek economy as international charity sector and the EU mobilized a tremendous amount of capital for the management at the peak of thee Greek crisis.